Wednesday, February 10, 2010


A premise is a proposition upon which further reasoning is built. A presupposition is "an implicit assumption about the world or background belief relating to an utterance whose truth is taken for granted." Father Dubay says that he often finds when he is talking about Gospel Poverty that the presuppositions of the audience are different from his own, and so the applications end up being different.

He uses the terms "premises" and "presuppositions" interchangeably. I suppose the difference is that generally, not always, premises are stated as such in an argument. Presuppositions are often implicit. In either case it is useful to pay attention to the foundations of an argument, all the more if they AREN'T stated.

Consider this Greek anecdote as an example of competing presuppositions:

The philosopher Diogenes was dining on bread and lentils. He was seen by the philosopher Aristippus who lived in considerable comfort by fawning on the king. Said Aristippus, “Learn subservience to the king and you will not live on lentils.”Said Diogenes, “Learn to live on lentils and you will not have to cultivate the king.
From this you can see that the wisdom of the ancients, using natural reason rather than Christian revelation (properly understood, reason and revelation can never contradict each other), understood that dependence upon material things is just that, dependence. It makes you do things you know aren't the best. We may not have kings in America but we do have the "king" of our own desires and perceived needs.

Father Dubay's premises go beyond natural reason, because though the ancients reasoned that the soul was immortal and that there was a Creator and Uncaused Cause, they could not "see" the details. God had to tell us what we know about Him beyond where reason can go.

He places considerable emphasis on the lives of the saints as the best kind of Scriptural exegesis. This is in accordance with what Augustine says in On Christian Doctrine about how understanding Scripture must always begin with "faith, hope and love" -- in other words, as much as possible, a holy life or at least a desire to reach understanding through participation. Later in the book Father Dubay tells many stories of the saints and how they lived lives that were an exemplar of the Gospel message, even though they were all very different from each other.

I was planning to list out Father Dubay's premises . I feel hesitant to do this since I am so far from living out the Gospel message completely. But to help a seeker understand WHY poverty might be something to be sought even though in itself it is just a negative, some hints or clues:

  • Our destiny goes beyond this life.
  • For this reason, even on earth, earthly things (food, drink, and the like) cannot satisfy us -- they can nourish us, but not make us completely contented.
  • "Our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee" (Augustine) -- the God who gave us everything we have is the only thing that can satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst.
  • In our real selves, apart from self-will, God is our Love.
  • Because our self-will gets in the way, "asceticism" is important (the word originally meant athletic training, and it's probably better to think of it that way -- my son will do endless difficult and tedious drills because he loves football so much; this is how the saints think of self-denial, not as a way of punishing the body out of self-hatred but in order to make it better for the "race" that St Paul mentions).
  • We can't love God totally if other things get in the way. A house divided does not stand. If we are flattering the "king" too much it is as if we were paying too much attention to a foreign dignitary and forgetting our true loyalty to our own country.
  • If it's important enough, we will give it our all. If Sean wants to play the best football, he will train and practice and study. But football, though lovable, will someday pass away. Our God and Creator is infinitely more important, and we should be giving him more than we giving the passing things, not less.
  • Things are means, not ends. We do use things to get us to heaven -- we are made to need nourishment, etc.. But to enjoy them too much is like going out to dinner with one's loved one and then devoting all one's attention to munching the good dinner without paying any more than minimal attention to our loved one's company.
  • Again, we are pilgrims, strangers, wayfarers.
  • Other pilgrims and wayfarers and neighbors are our brothers and we should have a brotherly concern for their well-being too.
  • Conversion is total ("metanoia" -- transformation and renewal of the mind).

He supports this all with many Scriptures which you can probably think of for yourself and recommends serious prayer as one studies these Scriptures. Without that, he thinks his specific ideas will fall on shallow or stony soil and not take deep root.

I was thinking about all these premises which are specifically to do with our relationship with our God. The Catholic Encyclopedia says that even the Greeks and Buddhists, for example, see value in self-denial for a greater good. But WHAT the greater good is does matter.

This is where Love comes in. If I am very honest, my natural self has trouble loving God anywhere near the way He should be loved. By myself, I am inclined to be somewhat resentful that Someone has almost infinite claims on me and that I have done nothing but let Him down. I can find myself doing self-improvement or home-improvements that are about pride, in a way -- about stoicism and needing nothing.

But this is the wrong tack. I think what Father Dubay wants to say here is that centrally, poverty is about Love.

I keep thinking about one merchant in a parable who sold all he had to buy an ordinary field (in Matthew 13). He was happy with his bargain because he had found a great treasure in the field.

Again, I think of some of the great quests in fairy tales and medieval romances -- the princes and princesses who travelled far and went through great difficulties to find their loved one. Or the knights who searched endlessly yet hopefully for the Holy Grail.

Giving up things doesn't make sense without a reason or at least a hope. It would be silly for the merchant to sell all he had to buy a worthless field (like buying the Brooklyn Bridge).

Father Dubay talks about the great joy of even our darkened, limited vision of God. The Roman martyrs rejoiced through torment and the missionaries gladly suffered great discomforts for love of Him and desire to "tell all their friends what they had found".

I'm glad to be through discussing this chapter. I don't feel I'm anywhere near internalizing his presuppositions -- I accept them but I don't thoroughly live them. However, that is his point, I believe -- that accepting them thoroughly means living them even when one doesn't completely understand.

We are up to 38 bags, by the way! Kevin cleared out his office closet yesterday and so we have three more bags of trash to get rid of.

1 comment:

  1. "I can find myself doing self-improvement or home-improvements that are about pride, in a way -- about stoicism and needing nothing.

    But this is the wrong tack. I think what Father Dubay wants to say here is that centrally, poverty is about Love. "

    I need to tattoo this on my forehead. I definitely think I fall into the prideful "I don't need this" feeling when decluttering. But it's more of a thumbing my nose at...something...I'm decluttering not really because I want to many times, but because I *must* to fit us all nicely here w/o so much visual clutter. So I do it with a nasty attitude - I guess w/ love for my family in a way, but not love of God, more of a whining to God, LOL.

    Thank you for bringing this up, because I didn't see it as pride. I'm VERY blind to my own pride because it masquerades as so many other things! Ack!


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!